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What Makes You SAD?


You're probably wondering why I capitalized 'SAD' in the title above. It's because while I would love to talk about sadness in general, today I'm writing about Seasonal Affective Disorder. In the wake of the time change this past weekend, I found myself thinking about how the patterns of darkness and light affect a portion of the world's population.


Seasonal Affective Disorder, or Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern (as it's known in the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual therapists use) occurs in four times as many women as it does men, and disproportionately affects people who live further from the equator. Unbeknownst to many, there are two major patterns of SAD, with one being the 'winter blues,' which is more commonly spoken about, and the other is labeled 'summer seasonal pattern disorder.'


The winter pattern of SAD is marked by sad mood, low energy, frequent bouts of crying, withdrawal from social situations, cravings for carbohydrates and sugars, subsequent weight gain, and possibly suicidal thoughts. People who experience the winter blues typically have higher levels of melatonin and trouble regulating their serotonin levels due to increased SERT proteins. You can read more about that here. Vitamin D levels are naturally lower in the winter due to people spending less time outside. Circadian rhythms, our pattern of sleep and waking, are changed in the fall and winter as sunlight becomes scarce. We find that people hibernate during the winter slightly, much like animals do, probably to the detriment of our health. All of these factors are believed to be part of the cause for SAD for the general population.


Symptoms for the 'summer seasonal pattern' of Seasonal Affective Disorder are poor appetite leading to weight loss, insomnia, agitation, restlessness and anxiety. This pattern of SAD is less common, but may give answers to some clients who find that they struggle in the summer especially. Given that we are headed towards winter, the focus of today's post will be on how to manage the winter pattern of SAD in the coming months.


Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder may involve an antidepressant prescription (I know of people who obtain a prescription every fall in preparation), light therapy, Vitamin D supplementation, and counseling. My recommendations to all clients who find their mood affected by the winter blues are as follows:

  • Find small ways to obtain and sustain joy. Buy a new candle. Decorate early for the holidays. Tend to your houseplants. Get cozy blankets and build a fire in your fireplace. Hunkering down doesn't have to feel like drudgery.

  • Go outside anyways. There is a saying that my family lives by: 'There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.' We aim for an hour outside per day in the winter months, and 3 or more hours a day in the spring and summer. Research shows that bad weather is actually good for you.

  • Eat good foods, move your body for 20 minutes per day purposefully, and get enough sleep.

  • Set an alarm and wake up at the same time every day. Yes, even on the weekends.

  • Remember that winter doesn't last forever, and your depression symptoms can be managed through counseling. Give me a call or email me if you want assistance with this step.

Seasonal affective disorder doesn't have to run your life this winter. You can feel better and do more, even when your mind and body want you to do less. Know that I'm rooting for you!


Take exquisite care of yourself and your family,



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